Sunderland August Review: more quality needed

With a two-week break from the Championship for internationals, this is a good time to review how all 24 teams have looked in their first five league games. Here’s our assessment of Sunderland.

What we said in pre-season

“After the horrors of last season, Sunderland face a tough season ahead and the midfield performances of Didier Ndong and Aiden McGeady will be key. Simon Grayson may not have the tactical flexibility to take the Black Cats up from this league, but he will instil effort and discipline – that will be the first step of a two-stage process. 11th

Have they surprised us?

No. Ndong’s defensive qualities have been pivotal, as expected, while McGeady has looked their best creative outlet. Local lad George Honeyman has flown in under the radar and, although not the league’s most talented player, his workmanlike displays encapsulate the team’s season to date.

The positives

In almost every game, Sunderland have had 11 players fighting for the shirt. Commitment should arguably be a given, but it is appreciated a little more in the aftermath of last season’s gutless displays. This newly-found drive has seen them start encounters with Derby, Sheffield Wednesday and Leeds on the front foot, often forcing desperate interventions from the opposition.

The negatives

While the effort has generally been there, the Black Cats have lacked the final third pace and precision to make those periods of pressure pay. Teams who are more technically gifted perhaps have the leeway to perform below par for long spells and get away with it due to clinical finishing. Sunderland must battle in every game: there is therefore no room for more capitulations like the one at Barnsley last week.

Late business

Winger Callum McManaman and creative midfield Jonny Williams could solve a few of the attacking problems. They arrive as part of Grayson’s treble swoop on deadline day, the third arrival being Marc Wilson. The defender will provide competition for centre-backs Tyias Browning and Lamine Kone, as well as left-back Bryan Oviedo, with Brendan Galloway out of favour.

The Football Lab’s Grade

The first five games represent either an underwhelming start, or the construction of crucial building blocks that any future success will be based. The answer depends on how highly one values the basic requirements of football, but either way there’s room for improvement. D